NEW ORLEANS — The clock was well past midnight. One Shining Moment had long departed the Superdome video screen. The NCAA championship trophy was sitting on the carpet inside the Kentucky locker room.
Outside stood John Calipari, weary and happy and a tad defiant.
"There's a lot of angry people right now, that said you couldn't do it," the Kentucky coach was saying. "Tried to put the black hat on me and all that stuff. They're not real happy."
Those mad men (and women) better get used to it.
Monday night wasn't the end of something, it was probably the beginning.
"If this was 1985, I'd have all these guys back and we'd be trying to go undefeated next year," he said. "It's not 25 years ago. It's now."
No one has figured out "now" better than John Calipari.
That's because right here, right now, all the nation's top prep basketball players live and breathe the same thing. They want to go pro. They want to get paid.
They want to help their families and their circumstances and help themselves in a tangible monetary way that four years of college promises but doesn't immediately deliver.
They want to go from a culture where everybody seems to get rich but them to a culture where they are the empowered ones, where they are the ones who cash the checks.
As a certain Indiana singer said, "Ain't that America?"
These days, the college landscape is short on freedom, and long on hypocrisy.
Example: Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is losing his second straight point guard to the NBA ranks after a single college season, and somehow it's Calipari that's "Coach One-and-Done."
Or, as they were saying Monday night, "Won-and-Done."
The guess here is that Calipari isn't done. For him, one is not enough. There is still too much to disprove.
The thinking was that you couldn't succeed relying on freshmen. Cal changed that. The thinking was that you couldn't get AAU all-stars to play together. Cal changed that.
The thinking was that you could win big with such a formula, but you couldn't win the title. Monday night, Cal changed that, too.
"I just do what I do," he said afterward.
Right now, he's doing it better than anyone else.
Monday, Calipari proved his "now" doesn't just work for the players, it works for the school and the fan base and the program in general.
There was not one peep of trouble out of this basketball team.
Florida's Billy Donovan went out of his way to compliment their demeanor. Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings talked about his admiration for the way they played the game.
Even Rick Pitino, yes, Rick Pitino, said Saturday night that he had not always liked some of the recent Kentucky teams, but this one was praiseworthy.
I was on Paul Finebaum's radio show last week when he played a clip of another radio host calling Calipari a cheater and wanted my reaction.
I gave it my standard line. I said I couldn't say for sure if any coach is clean, or any coach is dirty. I could say that if I were a player who wanted to make it to the NBA, who wanted to play in a system where my talents would be showcased in a way that wasn't stifling or restrictive, Calipari would be at the top of my consideration list.
But I now know I left out something.
If I were a player who wanted to do all those things in front of a ridiculously supportive fan base as part of a legendary tradition, with teammates that will sacrifice for the common good, and for a coach who will go to bat for my best interests, wouldn't I consider Calipari?
See, the biggest misconception these days is that these kids want to do it by themselves, that they want to be the star.
Not true. Most actually want to play with players just like themselves. They want to be a part of something — a part of something special, a part of something bigger than themselves.
"Anthony Davis didn't feel the pressure of, 'I have to do this,' " said Calipari when asked about his freshman center's coolness and maturity. "It's, 'We have to do this.' "
Calipari has figured out how to keep the "me," while incorporating the "we."
And now that he's figured it out, Cal has never seemed the type to stop.
"Before I leave coaching, I want to coach a team that goes 40-0," he said. "The reason is, they say it can't be done. Well, let's go try and do it."
John Calipari may have gotten his "one" Monday night, but he's far from done.
John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com